CHICAGO — A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that consumers are more prone to avoid red meat when presented with climate impact labels.

The study, surveying 5,049 US consumers, presented participants with a fast-casual restaurant menu, which featured 14 items, including meat, chicken, plant-based entrees and salads. Participants were prompted to select one food option. The menus had one of three label conditions:

•A quick response code label on all items (control group)

•A green low-climate impact label on chicken, fish or vegetarian items

•A red high-climate impact label on red meat items

The results indicated that nearly 25% of consumers presented with high-climate impact labels are more likely to select a sustainable menu item than the control group. Consumers presented with low-climate impact labels are 10% more likely to choose a sustainable menu item than when given a quick response code label.

“These findings suggest that climate impact menu labels may be an effective strategy to promote more sustainable restaurant food choices and that labels highlighting high–climate impact items may be most effective,” the authors of the study wrote.

The authors noted that voluntary industry labels implemented to date primarily have been positive labels indicating low greenhouse gas emissions or sustainable items, like the Cool Food Pledge adopted by Panera. The restaurant introduced a Cool Food Meals badge that identifies dishes with a lower climate footprint across its entire digital menu, with the badge appearing on its website and on its mobile app. When Panera launched the program in 2020, 55% of its entrees were certified as Cool Food Meals.

The study suggests that negatively framed labels may be more effective than positively framed labels.

“It is unlikely that industry would voluntarily adopt a negatively framed label approach,” the authors of the study wrote. “Such an approach may need to be mandated or incentivized via legislation or regulation.”